The Man Who Threw Money over Back Fences
"Uncle Rupert," the story begins, "was our Cargo Cult." Enchanting, intriguing and elusive, the man who throws money over back fences starts work in a bank under the egregious Mr Harfglass. Propelled by fear of marriage to the predatory Iro, he flees the bank and goes on the track. But he always cares for those he loves. He meets Godfrey Bronze, a battler for the battlers all his life, and wins political office. He becomes Foreign Minister and "President of the World", but, again, he opts for freedom to seek better ways of "throwing money over back fences". He uses the strengths of the capitalist order to benefit the poor and weak and bring more colour, brightness and purpose to the lives both of those who give and those who receive. Unique even in the realm of heroes, Rupert has the capacity to change the world but retains an endearing innocence, amiability and selflessness. He sees even those, like Mr Harfglass and fellow banker Mr. Collopy, whose lifestyle he abhors, as victims of the system. Many characters - Deadly and Maisie Morbid, Hansom Cab, Fingers McCall, Harry Clambake, Kemble Wallaby, Sterling Bodger and Sir Samuel Bonkole-Jones - are as unforgettable as their whimsical names. UNCLE RUPERT is an original, imaginative and captivating story, written in a style that sparkles with animation and wit. Optimistic and hopeful, it also offers a kindly and extremely readable commentary on much that tarnishes our contemporary society.
Chapter 7. BIGGY, WALLACE AND SAM
Rupert never knew precisely what he hit or what hit him when the 'plane crashed; but the collision was severe enough to knock him out. More importantly, he was thrown clear; and that probably saved his life. He emerged into consciousness as though from a nightmare: he'd dreamed that a very large man had been beating him about head and body and he thought it was Godfrey. Why Godfrey would do such a thing to him - even in a nightmare - he had no idea. But it's irrationality that nightmares are made of.
Without moving anything except his head, he looked around. The 'plane hadn't caught fire. Perhaps it hadn't had enough fuel to combust. Perhaps the fuel indicator had been one of the aircraft's few devices that had worked. So they'd crashed because they'd run out of petrol and fallen out of the sky. Perhaps...
Or perhaps the 'plane hadn't hit the ground hard enough.
It hadn't disintegrated. It lay like a sad, broken toy thrown away by a wilful child.
For several minutes, he didn't move. He was afraid that, if he did, something he cherished might fall off.
Cautiously, he tested his muscles. So far as he could tell, they were still in working order though some pained a little. Tentatively, he raised himself to a sitting position. So far, so good. He rose experimentally to his feet, flicked and shook leaves and mulch from his coat and trousers. How long he'd been unconscious he didn't know; but it had been long enough for insects to start probing for sustenance and breeding spots. He felt something in his hair and shook his head to rid himself of it. That hurt. But not unbearably.
Only then did he look around more comprehensively. The 'plane had landed in the midst of a clump of trees, though without ramming head-on into any of them
Through the pewtery late afternoon light, he tried to make out if there were any animals close by. He knew they couldn't be far away, given the vast game-park into which they'd crashed. Certainly, the herd of elephants they'd passed over in the final seconds must still be nearby. He looked to where the 'plane must have skimmed over them before crashing. Yes, there they were. He could see them ambling - elephants do amble, he reflected - across the grassland towards some trees, perhaps for shade or food or shelter for the night. But, thank God, they weren't coming in his direction. Indeed, they weren't showing any interest in him or the aircraft and, he imagined, wouldn't unless they took it into their heads that he or it might be a threat. Even then, they wouldn't eat the 'plane or him. At worst they'd stampede or simply stand on him if they wandered his way. If they did stand on him, he reflected, he'd be as dead as if he were eaten. Neither fate appealed.
There were other herds. Zebra. They wouldn't eat him either. Wildebeest. Would they? Rupert didn't know much about them but he was sure they weren't carnivores. He liked that word. Very decisive. But he didn't fancy having done to him what it so decisively foreshadowed. (Why is man so sensitive about being a meal for other animals but so negligent about the feelings of those many animals - and birds and fish - he feasts on himself? Rupert wasn't qualified to answer that question and in no mood to ponder it now. But he was very clear about his own antipathy to being eaten.)
It was strange in a way that bushman Rupert was nervous at being dumped in the middle of the bush. But this was the African bush. The Australian bush was relatively free of life-threatening species. Snakes were perhaps the greatest danger but Rupert had seen relatively few of them in all the years he'd spent in the Australian bush - and New Guinea. They got out of his way if they could. Here in Africa life-threatening species were everywhere and aggression was much more the rule. So, while even the African bush itself was, in some ways, familiar to Rupert, its inhabitants were not. He realised, now that he was confronted with them, just how ignorant he was.
What might eat him? Tigers? He could rule them out. There were no tigers in Africa. But there were lions. Perhaps they were already sniffing his sweat - if that's what they sniffed. Hyenas? He didn't fancy hyenas. There was a certain nobility about being devoured by lions. Like the early Christians. Nothing noble though about being devoured by hyenas. That, Rupert was convinced, would be a shameful, humiliating end.
Right at this moment, he could see nothing close or menacing. Nor could he see any sign of his companions. Was he the sole survivor?
Though the aircraft's back had broken in two places, the three resultant pieces were still tenuously linked together. The fuselage was torn, though not extensively, and both doors had been jolted open. He was easily able to get inside the cabin.
As soon as he did, he knew his three companions were dead. All had terrible head injuries which alone would have been enough to cause instant and, Rupert consoled himself, painless death. He was less shocked than he would have thought and than, in the peculiar and very personal circumstances, he felt he should be. He'd seen death at close quarters during the war but this was different: they'd been torn from a protected, privileged existence and hurtled into eternity. It had been so sudden, so unexpected, so purposeless and unnecessary.
When he'd confirmed that they were dead, he covered the bodies with blankets they'd used to keep warm during the flight.
Then he looked around.
What more could he do?
He felt surprisingly calm. So calm that he imagined there must be something wrong with his emotions. How could he so coldly accept what was a tragedy, not so much for himself - after all, he was still alive and, with a bit of luck, might survive to be rescued - as for his companions? He'd met the Ambassador only a few days before and had liked him instantly. He was a wholesome man - straighforward and decent. Courageous in those last few minutes. Martyn too, even though he knew how imminent and inevitable death had suddenly become. And he was sorry for the pilot, whom he knew hardly at all but he'd thrown his life away on an excursion that had had no real value to anyone. The only consolation was that perhaps he hadn't realised how valueless it was. Perhaps he'd thought he'd been serving a useful purpose in bringing together the President of Bugani and the President of the World.
Rupert might have felt less anguish because he'd known the tragedy of sudden and violent death before; for example, when the 39th had gone in that day against the Japs with the line of timber on one side and a sago swamp on the other. So many had died - and pretty uselessly: they hadn't made much ground; and they'd had to go on doing much the same costly job for another bloody month. More had died, more had been maimed, pretty uselessly. But he'd been young then, a mere boy. Should he feel more anguish now or less?
What purpose did it serve anyway to feel more anguish or less? There was nothing to be gained from weeping and moaning, whether a little or a lot. He had to get on with whatever he should be doing.
What could - what should - he do?
The radio hadn't been capable of transmitting long before they'd crashed. But it had been able to receive. He twiddled it to see whether it still did. He didn't know much about radios; but, so far as he could make out, it wasn't working at all now. Nothing lit up and he could get no sound out of it. Not even static. Not surprising, given the impact of the crash. Anyway, he was unlikely to hear any messages of direct interest - at least not yet.
As soon as they were missed, a search would begin. But that was some hours away; and it was already getting dark. Nothing much was likely to happen before morning.
What he had to concentrate on now was to get through the night. The obvious place was within the familiar cocoon of the aircraft's cabin. There he would at least feel safe. If he left, where would he go? He was a good bushman; but to go anywhere at night, through strange country, with wild animals around, was too great a challenge. He didn't use the word often but it fitted now: it would be folly to leave the relative security of the aircraft.
But when the night was over, what then? He didn't have to decide now. During the night, he'd have plenty of time to think.
Before the light faded, Rupert went outside again to assess how secure he really would be inside the aircraft. The doors had been jolted loose but he was able to push and yank them back pretty much into position. He couldn't lock them but they'd be firm enough to keep marauding animals out. Not much could get through the rips in the fuselage, except one hole through which he may have been thrown clear. He used loose pieces of the tail assembly and branches of nearby trees to close the gaps.
Then he settled down for the night, to sleep and to think.
By now it was already dark; and it was going to be a long night. He could hear animals outside. They sounded closer and more threatening as the light faded completely and he could see nothing.
When morning came, what would he do? Stay to be rescued or flee into the wilderness? Did he want to go back to the President's room where, even when he was there, there was no one? He'd always run away from emptiness as much as or more than from nastiness. This could be his best chance to abandon the Protocol Men and get back to living a real life.
For part of the night, he slept. For most of it, he thought about what he should do. He'd had an eventful life. But, lying alone in the dark, with the bodies of his three companions around him, listening to the strange sounds of animals outside, had no precedent. He hadn't known the Ambassador long; the pilot only a few hours. But he'd felt close to them; and he'd worked with his Private Secretary very closely for what seemed like a long time.
Even his New Guinea experience didn't compare. There had been the loss of comrades. They'd faced danger together and the danger had been greater than that which he believed he faced at the moment. But the danger had been more focussed. The diffuse, unidentified threat here was more terrifying. And he was totally alone - physically alone; alone with his fear.
The earth turned no more slowly on its axis that night than any other; but private chronometers arrange themselves in such ways that new joys and sorrows occupy a greater slice of perceived time than oft-repeated experiences. For an afternoon of loving, the clock stands still and claims a huge slab of later memory; so it is with terror. Rupert's private chronometer slowed to squeeze the utmost in anxiety from the night. But he wasn't so preoccupied with immediate dangers that he couldn't form a reasoned judgement about his future.
By early morning, he'd made up his mind. He'd try to find his way across the border into Matali and hide out there until the search died down. Making that decision relaxed him and, for a couple of hours, he slipped into a dreamless sleep.
As the blackness eases with the approach of dawn, the monsters of the night always seem less horrific; so that, when he awoke and was brave enough to look outside, there weren't many monsters at all. Indeed, he saw none. Nothing was attacking the aircraft or trying in any way to molest it. It was as uninteresting as a tourist bus in a safari park: it offered nothing and threatened nothing.
The only clear aggressors had been inside the aircraft: he'd been badly bitten during the night on neck and forearm; and a cluster of bites on his back itched in a spot he couldn't get at. Otherwise he felt fine.
He wanted to leave before the sun rose too high. His decision to get away was firm. He knew how he felt. It was no good fighting against the imperatives of the spirit. As it was when he left the bank, so it was now. As it was when he lit out from the Morbids' room in Stanley Street, so now he had to go, whatever uncertainties lay ahead.
And, if he were going, he had to get away early. In the first few hours after dawn, it would be cooler. He could put a good distance between himself and the aircraft; and early departure would reduce the risk that a search party - most likely from the air - might find the crash while he was still close and cut off his escape.
But, before he left, he wanted to tidy up inside the aircraft. Cover the bodies decently. Secure them as well as he could against marauders. Although they'd made no attempt last night, scavengers might try to get inside the cabin as the bodies began to decompose rapidly in the heat of the coming day.
He searched the aircraft for anything useful. There wasn't much. A half bottle of whiskey and, in a pouch beside the pilot's seat, a pistol, with ammunition. Italian. Pretty effective, Rupert imagined, against a human foe but unlikely to hold off a big cat. He found a cigarette lighter too. A useful adjunct to the fire-lighting skills he'd acquired in his bushwhacker days. He found some sandwiches too that the pilot had brought with him. He'd eaten some but several remained, together - curiously - with a can of coca-cola, a jar of jam and another of marmite. He put them all together in the pouch in which he'd found the pistol and slung it around his neck.
He thought he'd leave all his clothes except shirt, trousers, socks and shoes. But his coat was light and he might need it to keep warm at night. If it got too hot or he tired of wearing or carrying it, he'd throw it away. That didn't leave much except his tie. He hung that over a seat.
Altogether, he left plenty of evidence that he'd survived. He wasn't worried about that. Rescuers might think he'd been taken away by tribes-people in the area; or that he'd tried to find his own way to safety. Rupert felt a pang of shame that his countrymen might think him so stupid: the rule in Sturt's Stony Desert is always to stay with your broken-down truck or crashed aircraft. Wait till help arrives; don't rush off to almost certain death in the wilderness.
When he was satisfied he'd done everything he could at the crash site, he began walking. Unarmed, except for the Italian pistol. Primitive man was poorly equipped with means of defence against those who'd prey on him. One man alone is the ultimate in vulnerability. To survive for long, he depends on society. Rupert knew it only too well. His spirit had been obsessed with the notion that society can become a gaoler and he'd rebelled against that all his life. But society also promised protection. He'd never contested that. The problem had been to strike a reasonable balance between the demands of man's society and the essential benefits it conferred. The cost-effectiveness of society, he supposed you'd call it. Now he was at the far, far end of the spectrum, completely adrift from all society's protective elements, adrift in a sea of man's enemies, those who were, in all physical respects, except intelligence, vastly his superior. He knew his chances of survival must be slight.